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Sixth Form visit to the heart of political system

Seventeen Lower Sixth students visited the Houses of Parliament, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Supreme Court to learn more about Politics, History, International Relations and Law during an action-packed day that saw them thrust into the heart of British politics.

An early start saw the students reach Westminster bright and early. A tour of the Palace of Westminster, led by guides, gave the group an opportunity to go into the chambers of the Lords and the Commons, step through the Division Lobbies, and learn about the conventions that shape the work of Parliament. This included seeing politicians place their reservation cards in the seats they wanted ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions and the debate on whether or not Parliament should be able to take control of business again to block a no-deal Brexit in October.

This was followed by a session with Lord Gordon and Baronesses McIntosh and Bonham-Carter in a Lords Committee Room. The pupils were split into two groups and asked to consider how they access Public Service Broadcasting and how this contrasts with other providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and NowTV. The pupils embraced the opportunity to play a part in this key aspect of the Lords’ work, with Omid Kordmahalleh and Kate Roberts feeding back to a whole group discussion at the end.

Another opportunity to travel through the nooks and crannies of Parliament followed as the students were whisked away to Westminster Hall to meet Mary Robinson, MP for Cheadle. The pupils really valued the opportunity to quiz Mary on the big issues of the day – including Brexit, the prospect of a People’s Vote and the Tory leadership contest. Mary’s openness as to her views on these issues and her support for Sajid Javid elicited a positive response from the group, ahead of her needing to dash to the chamber to join the debating.

The next stop, having passed Chancellor Phillip Hammond on their way out of the Hall, was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Here, the group had the opportunity to meet with four diplomats with contrasting experiences of work in the FCO and the Home Office; both at home and overseas.

Again, their openness and the insight they were able to offer into the application process, the practical realities, the strategic importance and the personalities at the heart of diplomatic work left many in the room aspiring to a career in the Foreign Office. Valuable insights were gained into the world of counter terrorism work and personal experiences of recent diplomatic postings to Khartoum, Washington, Afghanistan and other intriguing destinations.

This part of the visit concluded with a tour of the two parts of the grand building on King Charles Street that originally contained the Foreign Office and the India Office, before the two were amalgamated with the transfer from Empire to Commonwealth in the post-war era. The group were struck by the way that the hustle and bustle in this hive of activity was very much as it would have been in the past.

After lunch on the South Bank, the final stop of the day took the group to the Supreme Court. Here, the students had the chance to sit in the seats occupied by the Justices, the appellants and their legal teams, as the intricacies of the interpretation of laws are reviewed in the highest court in the land. The pupils responded really positively in an interactive session, where they were asked to make decisions on a range of legal dilemmas extending from the right to object to making a cake with pro-gay marriage slogans on it to the legality of school uniform policies.

The group returned to Stockport after a very busy day in London, tired but enthused about the places they had visited and the people they had met.

As they look ahead to the challenge of applying to study beyond school, many had original intentions confirmed or new sparks lit. As revolutions around the world unfold, the Brexit debate continues and the Supreme Court continues to rule in cases of legal significance, the group will be well placed to hold informed views and a desire to find out more as a consequence of an excellent day out in London!